John Coxon and Ashley Wales (aka Spring Heel Jack) confronted free jazz on their last Thirsty Ear release, Masses, and effort that found them paired with youngish, New York-based improvisers. For the follow-up, Amassed, Spring Heel has tapped the international scene, drawing players from the highest tier of international free improvisation, including trombonist Paul Rutherford, saxophonist Evan Parker, drummer Han Bennink and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Only pianist Matthew Shipp carries over from the previous effort-here on the electric piano and doing his best Herbie Hancock.
Amassed is really a terrific and very listenable effort, due in part to the light hand of Coxon and Wales. Free jazz and free improvisation has been open to all sorts of electronic manipulations and bleeps for quite a few years, so it's not surprising that these players are open to this. But on the other end of things, Coxon and Wales show great respect for the live-time musicians-allowing their contributions to play out without burying them in sound or attempting to weld them to a beat. They instead find ways to work alongside the musicians, using found sound and moody atmospherics as a way of creating a large, difficult-to-define sonic spaces-as with the tearing paper and crinkling can sounds as accompaniment to Evan Parker's long solo on "Lit," or the bell chimes that open "Wormwood" with a noir-crafted sound.
In the end, however, the quality of the solos pushes this one over. Rutherford and Parker both distinguish themselves very well, but honors go, without hesitation, to Wheeler, whose stunning solo on the tail end of "Lit" will pull the tears from your ducts.
Whether or not this sort of collaboration between improv and electronica artists becomes the future of jazz is debatable. But what makes Amassed notable now is the sensitive contributions from just about everyone involved, Coxon and Wales definitely included.